In our hoarding clinic and research program, one of the most common inquiries I get goes something like this: "My [mother, father, sibling, friend, spouse, etc.] has a terrible hoarding problem. But he/she doesn't seem to recognize that it's a problem, and isn't interested in doing anything about it. How can I make her see that this is a problem and get the help she so badly needs?"

The short answer: In most cases, you can't. That is, assuming that your loved one is an adult who is legally competent to manage his/her own affairs (meaning he has not been declared incompetent by a judge and appointed a legal guardian), and the clutter is not immediately life-threatening, she has the right to hoard, even though the hoarding might have terrible consequences for her quality of life.

The long answer: Even though in most cases you can't make the person do anything, you can alter your approach to minimize the likelihood of getting a defensive or "stubborn" reaction. Often, it's tempting to start arguing with the person, trying to persuade her to see things the way you do. This kind of direct confrontation rarely works. We find that the best way to help people increase their motivation to work on the problem is to start with three key assumptions:

  1. Ambivalence is normal.
  2. People have a right to make their own choices.
  3. Nothing will happen until the person is ready to change.


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